President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the 18th Congress during his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) to pass 21 bills within the last two years of his term.
But while the country is still struggling to fight the coronavirus pandemic, only 5 of Duterte’s SONA priority bills on Monday, July 27, were specifically designed to respond to the COVID-19 crisis.
These include the proposed COVID-19 response and recovery plan called Bayanihan to Recover As One Act and the bill providing incentives to financial institutions to sell their non-performing assets affected by the pandemic. (READ: Duterte’s 2020 SONA: Pandemic plan overtaken by obsession with ‘oligarchs’)
Duterte is also asking his allies in Congress to approve bills that would establish a Medical Reserve Corps and create a National Disease Prevention and Management Authority to prepare for future outbreaks.
The President also wants to protect online consumers and sellers alike after the industry started booming when lockdowns were imposed across the country due to COVID-19.
The rest of Duterte’s pet bills are a mix of proposals and laws he had long been asking Congress to approve in his past SONAs.
From the Bayanihan 2 to the coco levy bill that he had earlier vetoed, here are Duterte’s priority measures in his 5th SONA:
1. Bayanihan to Recover as One Act
“May I again reiterate my thanks to you, the men and women of Congress, for the effort you invested into passing that law (Bayanihan to Heal as One Act). I hope that we can get some or the same treatment of clarity, purpose and the fastness to support the passage of the Bayanihan [to Recover as One Act], which will supplement funds for recovery and response against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The proposed Bayanihan 2 bill provides a comprehensive list of 64 “interventions” that the executive branch is expected to undertake to combat the pandemic – from setting a COVID-19 testing protocol for vulnerable sectors to providing aid to those in the transport and tourism industries critically affected by the health crisis.
These interventions adopted the 30 special powers that the first Bayanihan law originally granted to Duterte, which expired on June 25.
Both chambers, however, are seeking different amounts for the proposed standby fund for COVID-19 response programs: P162 billion in the House and P140 billion in the Senate.
Lawmakers will have to reconcile the conflicting provisions of their respective Bayanihan 2 bills before Congress can pass it into law.
2. Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (Create) Act
“We must facilitate the country’s economic recovery. I call on Congress to fast-track the passage of proposed measures such as the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises or Create Act. This immediately cuts the corporate income levy from the current 30 to 25% and give the government flexibility to grant a combination of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, among others.”
The Create Act is the Duterte administration’s second tax reform package that would gradually cut corporate income taxes starting 2021, eventually bringing down the current 30% rate to 20% by 2029.
Duterte had earlier urged lawmakers to prioritize Citira in his 4th SONA in July 2019. The House passed the measure at the time but it did not fly in the Senate.
This is also the 3rd time the bill was renamed, as it was originally called the Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High-Quality Opportunities Act in the previous 17th Congress.
The measure was then renamed twice during the current 18th Congress – first into the Corporate Income Tax and Incentive Rationalization Act, then into its current name, Create Act.
3. Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer (Fist) Act
“The Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer or Fist Act will set up mechanisms allowing banks and other financial institutions to dispose of and transfer non-performing assets and loans to asset management companies similar to Special Purpose Vehicles.”
The House has already given its nod to the Fist bill, which would assist banks and other financial institutions with offloading their debts and managing their non-performing assets affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proposed incentives include exemptions from the payment of documentary stamp tax, capital gains tax, creditable withholding income taxes imposed on the transfer of buildings, and value-added tax.
There is currently no Senate version of the bill.
4. Department of Overseas Filipinos
“And this one, I strongly urge Congress to pass a law establishing the Department of Overseas Filipinos [focused] solely on addressing the concerns of Filipinos abroad and their families… Kawawa kasi itong ating mga overseas (I pity our overseas workers)… Their needs, their pleas are not really attended to with dispatch and with care.”
Duterte has long been calling for the creation of a new department focused on the needs of overseas Filipinos workers since the 2016 presidential campaign.
The House already passed the bill on 3rd reading in March this year, but the Senate version is still pending at the committee level.
5. Death penalty for drug convicts
“I reiterate the swift passage of a law reviving the death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous [Drugs] Act of 2002… This law will not only help us deter criminality but also save our children from the dangers posed by illegal and dangerous drugs.”
Duterte seeking the revival of the death penalty for drug convicts is nothing new. He had asked this from Congress during his second SONA in 2017, then again during his 4th SONA last year.
The House had approved a death penalty bill punishing drug-related crimes in 2017, but it was met with strong opposition in the Senate.
Lawmakers seemed surprised Duterte once again asked them to reimpose the capital punishment, as the President noticed they did not immediately applaud when he mentioned it on Monday.
“I did not hear so much clapping so I presume that they are not interested,” said Duterte, which then prompted the legislators in the plenary hall to loudly applaud him.
6. National Housing Development bill
“I renew my call for Congress to pass the National Housing Development bill and the Rental Housing Subsidy bill. These will enable all Filipinos – regardless of social status – to live in decent homes where their families can lead meaningful lives.”
Versions of this measure have been filed both in the House and the Senate since 2019, but they are still pending at the committee level. The bill aims to provide funding for and accelerate government housing projects for homeless Filipinos.
7. Rental housing subsidy bill
There are pending rental housing subsidy measures in both the House and the Senate. If the bill is passed into law, informal sector families would receive a flat-rate rental cash aid from the government, aiming to give them access to the formal housing market.
8. Amend the Continuing Professional Development Act of 2016
“I also call on Congress to amend Republic Act (RA) No. 10912 [or] the Continuing Professional Development Act of 2016. In this time of great pandemic and forthcoming reconstruction, requiring our professionals to undergo seminars is burdensome and not realistic. This must end.”
RA 10912 requires professionals to earn a specific number of units – called continuing professional development (CPD) units – before their licenses are renewed. The units are usually acquired through development programs, like seminars, graduate studies, and online courses, among others.
But Duterte wants this requirement to be lifted, at least while the pandemic is still ongoing. (READ: To have professional licenses renewed under new rules in PH, here’s the cost)
In May, the Professional Regulatory Commission started granting CPD units to all professionals who rendered essential services during the COVID-19 crisis.
9. Advanced Nursing Education Act
This is a pet bill of Duterte’s longtime aide-turned-senator Bong Go, who wants to entice Filipino nurses to stay in the Philippines instead of working abroad.
Senate Bill No. 395 would require higher learning institutions accredited by the Commission on Higher Education to establish standard basic and graduate programs for nursing education.
No counterpart measure has been filed in the House so far.
10. Creating a Medical Reserve Corps
There are pending bills in the 18th Congress pushing to create a Medical Reserve Corps, who would be trained to augment the country’s human health resources in times of disasters and health emergencies.
11. National Disease Prevention and Management Authority
“In the long term, we are looking into the creation of the National Disease Prevention and Management Authority to better prepare for pandemics, protect lives, and allow development to proceed even in the worst of times. We are counting on the full support of Congress for this critically important endeavor.”
In his 5th SONA, Duterte admitted there were lapses in his government’s response to the pandemic. He then told Congress to create a National Disease Prevention and Management Authority that would be primarily tasked to prepare the Philippines in the event of another crippling pandemic like what COVID-19 has caused.
Duterte, however, has yet to determine where to source funds, should this body be created.
12. Unified system of separation, retirement, and pension of the military and uniformed personnel
“I call on Congress to prioritize the passage of a law for the Unified System of Separation, Retirement and Pension of the Military and Uniformed Personnel without however diminishing the benefits that our uniformed personnel are entitled to under existing laws.”
Reforming the pension system is a longtime promise of Duterte to the military and other uniformed personnel. He wants the current pension system amended so it would be applicable only to newly-hired uniformed officers.
Duterte said if Congress does not heed his request, there would be a “ballooning effect” against the military’s budget in the years to come.
13. Modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP)
“We must also modernize the Bureau of Fire Protection and the Bureau of Immigration with urgency.”
Duterte said it is about time that the BFP is modernized, as the national government has “overlooked it for a long time.”
14. Modernization of the Bureau of Immigration (BI)
The President likewise said in his 5th SONA that there is a need to modernize the BI, though Duterte did not elaborate on this anymore in his speech.
15. Department of Disaster Resilience
“I emphasize the creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience. Our people’s safety cannot be delegated to a council or commission.”
Duterte first asked Congress to create a department solely focused on responding to calamities and other disasters in 2018. The House already passed the bill on 3rd reading during the 17th Congress, but it did not get the nod of senators at the time. The measure has since been refiled in 2019 but remains pending in both chambers.
16. Evacuation centers in every province, city, and municipality
“Equally important is the establishment of evacuation centers in every city, province and municipality throughout the country. We must act [now] before another major disaster shakes [us] into action.”
Congestion in evacuation centers is usually a problem whenever a calamity strikes. Several senators and congressional representatives have filed their respective bills that would require the government to ensure there’s at least one evacuation center in every province, city, and municipality across the country. They have all remained pending at the committee level since 2019.
17. National Land Use Act (NLUA)
“The responsible extraction and equitable distribution of natural resources remain among my non-negotiables. I reiterate the need for the passage of the National Land Use Act which has been pending for decades. Pakisilip lang ho ninyo ‘yan (Please look into this).”
This is the 4th time Duterte is asking Congress to pass the NLUA, as it has failed to deliver this to him in the past 3 years.
The proposed NLUA creates a national land use authority that will draft and oversee a national land use plan that will classify land according to use: protection (for conservation), production (for agriculture and fisheries), settlements development (for residential purposes), and infrastructure development (for transportation, communication, water resources, social infrastructure).
The NLUA has languished in Congress for decades, even after it was certified as urgent by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, in 2013.
18. Boracay Island Development Authority (BIDA)
“We have seen the remarkable reemergence of the island back to its former glory. I want this sustained. I ask Congress to enact a law creating – importante ito (this is important) – the Boracay Island [Development] Authority or BIDA. We need it.”
The President said creating the BIDA would “sustain” the rehabilitation of the famous summer getaway island Boracay, which his government kicked off in 2018.
The 6-month closure of Boracay cost the country millions in tourism revenue, but helped clean up its famous white-sand beaches for a time. But the Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force still has unmet targets to this day, forcing Duterte to extend its life to May 2021.
19. Coconut levy trust fund bill
“I once again urge both houses of Congress to pass a version of the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers Trust Fund. Tulungan natin ang ating mga magsasaka. Pagka hindi, mawawala ‘yong pera. Bilyon ‘yan. (Let us help our farmers. If we don’t, we would lose the money. Those are billions.)”
Just like in last year’s SONA, Duterte asked lawmakers to pass the coconut levy trust fund bill. This is despite him vetoing in February 2019 the twin bills that would have allowed the return of coco levy funds to farmers. This is another campaign promise that Duterte has so far failed to keep.
20. Rural, Agricultural, and Fisheries Development Financing System Act
“I am also requesting Congress to pass the Rural, Agricultural, and Fisheries Development Financing System Act. We aim to provide adequate, accessible, and affordable food for every Filipino to the Plant, Plant, Plant program.”
Duterte said the proposed P66-billion stimulus package would help fisherfolk and farmers recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
If passed into law, this bill would establish an enhanced financing system that would provide loans, grants, and investments to qualified fisherfolk and farmer-beneficiaries. The House already passed the measure in March, while the Senate version is still pending at the committee level.
21. Internet Transactions Act
“We need to build trust and confidence in online transactions, stronger protection for online consumers, and enabling measures for online business [through] the enactment of an Internet Transaction Act. This is very good.”
The proposed Internet Transactions Act is primarily authored by Senator Win Gatchalian in the Senate and his brother Valenzuela City 1st District Representative Weslie Gatchalian in the House.
The bills would create an e-commerce bureau that will be tasked to regulate online selling. Duterte told lawmakers to work closely with the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure the Internet Transactions Act would be “responsive to the needs of the consumers while promoting the growth of e-commerce in the country.” – Rappler.com